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Parashat Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24)

“Arise, lift up the youth and grasp your hand upon him,
for I will make a great nation of him.” (Genesis 21:18)

Parashat Vayeira never changes from year to year: Abraham always invites strangers into his tent, Sodom and Gemorah always get destroyed, and Isaac always almost gets sacrificed. But the week in which Vayeira is read is never the same, so each year provides a new and unique context for reading the parasha, or portion.

Last week, Abraham laughs when God tells him Sarah will become pregnant (Gen. 17:17). This week, Sarah also laughs when she learns of this same prophecy. But God calls Sarah to account for her behavior and doesn’t accept her response (Gen. 18:11-15). The #MeToo Movement generally (and the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings more specifically), bring this ancient double standard into high relief.

Later in the parasha, Abraham is distressed to learn Sarah wants to banish Hagar and Ishmael. God responds, “…Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice…” (Gen. 21:12). This complicates matters: this time, Sarah speaks with authority and her voice is heard, but to what end? To punish an innocent woman and child. How is that OK?

Rabbi Burt Visotzky (Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at The Jewish Theological Seminary) claims the messiness of the Genesis stories is what makes them so durable and powerful. They are filled with moral dilemmas which demand ongoing analysis. The stories themselves are not sacred; rather, it is the unending study of the texts that create their sanctity and yield a moral education. So every generation relies upon its own sensibilities to make sense of the actions in the stories. What remains constant across time is the essential question: what is the right thing to do?

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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